Recently two respected think-tank scholars dropped the scholarly distance and performed a major public service by stating what's become obvious but remained unspoken because of the bitter partisan divide.
In an op-ed with a title that telegraphs its point and its authors' frustration -- "Let's Just Say It: The Republicans Are the Problem" -- Thomas E. Mann of the left-leaning Brookings Institution and Norman J. Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute sparked a geyser of commentary (here, here, and here) and, more impressively, public reaction. After 5,000-plus comments, The Washington Post finally closed the gate.
But their point keeps resonating. From their vantage point of 40 years each studying Washington politics and Congress, Mann and Ornstein declare they have "never seen them so dysfunctional." Key reason? The Republicans' growing extremism. While the Democrats have become a status-quo party of the center, the Republicans have moved to the right, past the goal posts, thanks in part to flame-throwers like Newt Gingrich, who as Speaker in the '90s began the purging of moderates and the inflaming of the base, and Grover Norquist with his extortionate no-tax pledges of members of Congress.
The consequences for legislating have been disastrous. As Mann and Ornstein put it:
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
This bill of particulars is damning enough, but it leads to another damning question: Where is the loyalty to the nation? Since the Republicans are nominally the loyal opposition, these behaviors -- scorning compromise, being unmoved by fact, dismissive of the legitimacy of Democrat rule -- hardly contribute to Team America.
So, let's just say it: As opposition, the Republicans are not loyal.
Examples abound: In the debt-ceiling "debate" last year, the Republicans' yield-no-ground negotiating stance left the impression they did not care if the United States government defaulted on its good name. The chaos of Congress in this matter led to our lowered credit rating, a black mark eliciting from the Republicans little more than "So be it." This is loyalty? And now House Speaker John Boehner announces he intends to launch this "debate" again, with no change in argument.
Exhibiting early on a dismissive attitude toward the ruling party and its leader, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell in 2010 declared that the Republicans' "top political priority" would be to deny President Barack Obama a second term (see here and here). Never mind the top priority of working with Democrats to get the country out of the economic crisis that they, the Republicans, created during the Bush years with two unfunded wars and unwarranted tax cuts for the rich. Forget contrition, go on the attack, declare your intention to take out the president who's been tasked to clean up your own mess! This is not only disloyalty but breathtaking chutzpah. At that point the Republicans put party over country and have done so ever since.
Indeed, what helping hand have the Republicans ever extended to Mr. Obama? As Mann and Ornstein state:
In the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly every presidential initiative met with vehement, rancorous and unanimous Republican opposition in the House and the Senate, followed by efforts to delegitimize the results and repeal the policies.
And then there is the Republicans' extreme anti-government rhetoric, which frequently approaches insurrectionary pitch.
One could almost think treason to describe such behavior, but that firecracker term would distract from the substance, which is: that as loyalty and patriotism go, the Republicans who crow so much about both are, in truth, not much for either.
In reporting on the current political dysfunction, Mann and Ornstein urge the media to cease the so-called objectivity and balance: "...a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality." Going further, they advise the press: "Don't seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?"
Apart from the head-clearing relief, what is the operational usefulness of these recognitions -- that the Republicans are the problem, that as opposition they are not loyal? For one thing, it should garner for Mr. Obama greater respect among quibbling Democrats: Whatever Mr. Obama has achieved, he's achieved against a formidable (and disloyal) Republican Wall of No.
For another, it should close the "enthusiasm gap" with Republicans in this election year and energize the Democrats to aim bigger: to take back the House as well as keep the Senate and White House. After all, since the bipartisan cooperation thing hasn't worked, and since we don't do imprisonment or firing squads (the fate of political enemies in non-democracies), how better to deal with a problematic and disloyal opposition than to take away what footing they have and bury them deep, deep, deep in the political wilderness?
Then we could get some actual governing done.
Carla Seaquist is author of a book of commentary, "Manufacturing Hope: Post-9/11 Notes on Politics, Culture, Torture, and the American Character." Also a playwright, she is author of "Who Cares?: The Washington-Sarajevo Talks," included in the forthcoming volume "Two Plays of Life and Death," and is working on a play titled "Prodigal."